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Bin Laden, the luxury tax and ABC

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Osama bin Laden was dead, and Washington, D.C., was taking a welcome break from its usual rancor and partisan bickering. A rare feeling of goodwill descended over the capital, the country. Dare I call it togetherness? Call it what you like, it felt pretty good — even if we all knew it probably wasn’t going to last.

I was in Washington last week as part of the industry’s American Boating Congress legislative conference, known by its shorthand, ABC. And there certainly was no shortage of political and legislative hurdles ahead of us. The NMMA’s Thom Dammrich ran through a list, from ethanol to mandatory life jacket wear to new taxes.

But the emerging details of bin Laden’s demise and the daring, well-executed raid on his compound in Pakistan — carried out with a kind of surgical precision that seems so hard for us to conjure up any more — threaded their way through the news and conversations and our private thoughts.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, a nuclear meltdown, tornadoes, floods, recession, revolution — had we lost control of everything? The justice Navy SEALs delivered in Abbottabad was long overdue and helped lift our collective national psyche. Who didn’t feel good?

The day I arrived in the capital, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a budget that not only raised the state’s sales tax, but also imposed a 0.65 percent luxury tax on boats costing $100,000 and more. With the sales tax going from 6 to 6.35 percent, the total tax on boats above the 100K threshold climbed to 7 percent. Although the luxury portion of the tax is not as high as originally proposed, any such tax on boats is ill-conceived and counterproductive to growth. Have we not learned anything since the disastrous federal luxury tax of two decades ago?

The following day, Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., co-chairman of the Congressional Boating Caucus, recalled the damage the federal luxury tax of the early 1990s did to working families in morning remarks to the ABC audience.

“I can’t think of a stupider idea,” Donnelly, a lifelong boater, told the attendees. “That will never be forgotten.”

I thought immediately of one of the taunts my daughter, now 12, used to shoot at her brother, who is 11. “Girls go to college to get more knowledge,” she’d chirp in singsong fashion. “Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider.”

Gov. Malloy, it would appear, got his degree from Jupiter.

In the afternoon, dozens of marine industry representatives went on so-called Hill visits, stopping at House and Senate offices to remind the duly elected of the issues that matter, back home and on a national level.

I accompanied the Connecticut contingent, which consisted of Nancy Cueroni, executive director of the National Marine Distributors Association, and Jason Blackburn of Faria Corp. in Uncasville, Conn. And the three of us got to spend a couple of uplifting hours in the Capitol as guests of Donnelly, who was friends with Nancy when both attended Notre Dame.

You know what was gratifying? Watching the lines of school kids parading through the rotunda on this lovely spring day, getting a whiff of democracy and history and scale and bearing. Learning, I hope, that this truly is as much a seat of democracy as it is a seat of power.

That afternoon, President Obama was in New York City, where he placed a wreath of red, white and blue flowers at ground zero and met with relatives of those who died on 9/11, along with police, firefighters and other first responders.

If you live in the metro New York area, chances are good that you either knew someone who died in the attack on the World Trade Center or you knew someone who lost a friend or loved one. It truly is six degrees of separation. (Soundings Trade Only is located in southeastern Connecticut, about two hours from NYC.)

I wrote a column in 2001 about a Cantor Fitzgerald broker who died in the attack. Donald was an avid fisherman and boat nut and friend of one of my co-workers at Soundings. When he died, his wife was pregnant with his son. I still hear about the family secondhand from my friend.

There’s a woman in town who lost a family member on 9/11 aboard one of the airliners hijacked to New York. I saw her jogging the other day, and I couldn’t help but think of the loss she carries. That thought flashes through my mind each time our paths cross. Perhaps it’s a little easier today?

The day after the attacks of Sept. 11, I fished late into the night off a small island in eastern Long Island Sound. The Milky Way was clear and brilliant, and I don’t recall any planes in the sky that night. My fishing partner and I barely spoke as we drifted with the current. We watched the sky, lost in our thoughts, not knowing exactly what to think or to feel. It was as if we were in shock. I remember wondering: Should we even be out here?

A month later my son got sick, and for a long time I wondered whether I had somehow brought that illness upon him — whether his tumor was some kind of twisted karmic retribution the universe wrought for fishing that night. A plague on your house, that sort of thing. It makes no rational sense, but that’s the way you sometimes think when bad things happen to good people. Magical thinking takes over, and you wind up slipping down a rabbit hole.

I left the Capitol and cut across a park, buoyed by the youthful energy and optimism on the faces of the visitors we were just with. The sky was clearing, and the sun was out. Everything was greening up. A cool breeze greeted me as I headed down the leafy hill.

Earlier that morning Congressional Boating Caucus co-chairwoman Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., talked about growing up in the family boating business and the issues facing the industry today, from clean water and invasive species to dredging. And she ended with a deadpan crack about bin Laden’s burial at sea and feeling sort of bad for the sharks.

I found it funny, although I am sure some European “commentators” who were quick to “tsk tsk” us for celebrating bin Laden’s demise would have wagged a finger. They can pound sand.

Miller said everybody in Washington had a “lighter step” the last couple of days because bin Laden was finally gone. I nearly floated down the hill to the hotel and a taxi and the first leg of the journey home.



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